AIDS TESTING HAS come to Harvard. As part of a policy affecting the entire U.S. armed forces, Harvard students enrolled in the Reserve Officer Training Corps will be tested to determine whether they are carrying HTLV-III, the virus which causes AIDS. Anyone testing positive will be dismissed from ROTC. Students on ROTC scholarships will lose them. While carriers of the virus do not necessarily develop the disease, the military has embarked on a policy of excluding all carriers from military service. This policy is not only unecessary and unsupported by clinical evidence about AIDS, but also indicative of the attitude of intolerance and misunderstanding that has surrounded the spread of the disease. It is a phobia particularly unacceptable at an institution devoted to enlightenment and tolerance.
All medical evidence available so far indicates, first, that the HTLV-III virus can only be transmitted by the exchange of body fluids between a carrier and another person--an event that seems no more likely to occur among military personnel than between them and the general population--and, second, that many people carry HTLV-III without developing AIDS. The Department of Defense has expressed concern that carriers may develop the disease if they receive immunizations that are standard for all military personnel. This concern is touching, though there is little clinical evidence to support it. Moreover, people dismissed from active service or from ROTC have already been immunized--the military can hardly be protecting them.
One Navy ROTC cadet enrolled at Harvard offered an alternative explanation: that the military wants to get rid of homosexuals in its ranks. And while top Pentagon officials may not have designed the new screening policy as an overt purge of homosexuals, we can not help but think that the unfounded homophobia associated with AIDS affected their deliberations.
AIDS hysteria and bigotry toward homosexuals have no place at Harvard, and neither does a program like ROTC which is committed to military values and priorities that inevitably conflict with the ideals of openess and tolerance for which, we are so often reminded, the Harvard community stands. The University's priorities are, and must ever be, truth and learning, and not service to country or national security.
This incident is just another reminder that formal University ties to the ROTC program should remain severed. Let's keep ROTC and AIDS testing off the Harvard campus.